By Jim Riggs, Sports Editor
The major league baseball spring training season has about reached the halfway point and we've had the chance to see and hear about many prospects for each team.However, many baseball fans have been following the progress of those prospects for years.
In today's high-tech world it is simple to keep track of a team's minor leaguers all the way from Triple A down to Single A. Now when a hot rookie has a big year in the major leagues it's not a surprise to many fans because they have been following the player for years through websites and by reading Baseball America.
Speaking of Baseball America, its Prospect Handbook that is published every winter has everything a fan needs to know about the top players in every major league team's farm system.
But Baseball America wasn't established until 1980 and before then about the only place you could get any minor league news was in The Sporting News, which was still considered "the baseball bible." But that minor league news was usually a couple of weeks late.
Another place to check out top minor leaguers heading into spring training was in the March edition of Baseball Digest which had its top prospects section. The cover of that edition stated: Exclusive! From The Confidential Files of Big League Clubs. Official Scouting Reports. Complete Data On 329 Rookies.
For each prospect there were vital statistics such as how they bat and throw, birth date, height and weight, marital status and where they live. Then there was a short rundown of the player's previous season and it ended with a scouting report.
Those editions of Baseball Digest were valuable to baseball fanatics and I still have some from the mid-1960s that I recall reading over and over.
Recently I decided to look through them again.
Most of the names were unknown at the time, but became very familiar in the major leagues a few years later. What was the most interesting was reading the scouting reports.
For instance, the Baltimore Orioles had a minor-league shortstop who was described as, "Fair hitter. Speedy runner. Has strong arm and wide range. With an improvement in hitting can make the majors."
It was Mark Belanger.
The Orioles also had a catcher who: "Is improving. If he hits can make majors. Fair speed. Fields well."
That was Andy Etchebarren.
Boston had a promising third baseman who was described as: "Can power ball. Has good range. Hits for fair average. Arm good. Hands good. Has outside chance to be a good major leaguer."
It was George Scott.
The A's were still in Kansas City, but they were building the teams that would win three straight World Series in the early 1970s as the Oakland A's.
One scouting report said "Shows ability with live arm but not consistent with fastball. Fair breaking stuff. Good delivery and shows poise. Good desire. With more consistency could be 3A."
That was the lowdown on pitcher Rollie Fingers.
And there was a catcher on the way up to receive Fingers' pitches. His scouting report said: "He has all the requirements for a big league catcher except hitting. Swings bat hard, though. Good hustler. Good arm. Runs pretty good. Fielding good. Right now 2A again on hitting deficiency."
That was referring to Dave Duncan.
The A's also had a promising infielder who "Can hit although power is slight. Fields well, runs fast. With improvement at the bat he can make it."
That was second baseman Tony LaRussa.
Pittsburgh also had a talented battery coming up.
"Fastball alive. Has control, poise and can field position. Strong arm. Needs more experience."
That was the scouting report on pitcher Doc Ellis.
The catcher was: "Good hustler, hard worker, needs experience. Only fair in other departments."
That was Manny Sanguillen.
The Yankees had a good shortstop on the way.
"Good range, hits well. Had fine showing last September in tryout. Lack of experience his only fault."
It was Bobby Murcer.
And the Mets had one, too.
"Possibility. Good power for a shortstop. Arm good; covers ground well."
That was Derrell Harrelson, who wasn't known as Bud yet.
A top Mets' pitching prospect had a scouting report that said: "Good fastball. Curve only fair; control and fielding OK. First-year man with hard fast one."
That was Tom Seaver.
Another top pitcher was "A possibility. Good control, fair fastball and curve."
That possibility was Ken Holtzman of the Cubs (in the photo above).
And a future Phillies hurler was described as "Possibility. Tools good. Primarily a curveball pitcher with knuckler ready."
It was Fergie Jenkins.
Highlighting the prospects was a Giants outfielder.
"Definitely a prospect. Good hustler and above average in all departments, especially bat, power and arm."
That was Bobby Bonds, Barry's father.
And even better was a can't-miss catcher.
"Best prospect this scout has seen in a couple of years. He can't miss. Superior arm and good or better in every other department. A real hustler."
No it wasn't Charlie Hustle, better known as Pete Rose. It was Cincinnati's Johnny Bench.
If Bench played in the minor leagues now, you could follow a game-by-game report of his minor league career and probably watch numerous YouTube videos of him in action.
But back in the ''dark ages, '' you could only read what was happening with a top baseball prospect. And the best place to follow his career was in Baseball Digest's top prospects edition.
And it cost only 35 cents!